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Effort? Interest? Perseverance? What’s all this talk about Grit?
Dr. Dahra Williams and Ms. Vita Biddle

Have you ever wondered why some children seem to just give up on certain aspects of their schoolwork, believing they simply can’t do it? Or, conversely, there are those who stubbornly refuse to quit despite poor grades and struggles. What triggers some students to take one path or the other?

The difference between the two may be “grit” – a term that emerged from the highly respected work of Dr. Angela Duckworth, author, researcher, and frequent speaker.

In its simplest terms, Dr. Duckworth and her team consider grit to be “sustained perseverance coupled with intense passion.” It’s not about a measure of intelligence, but more about the innate desire to keep trying, fueled by genuine interest and self-discipline. In Dr. Duckworth’s research (and in subsequent related studies), it has been demonstrated that grit is likely a more significant factor in school success than IQ. The same holds true for life, as well.

Many educators are now exploring the idea of grit and bringing the concept to the forefront via discussions and awareness of “Mindset,” based on the work of Dr. Carol Dweck.

Dr. Dweck explores how the student with the “fixed mindset” would rather quit than fail; would rather look smart than struggle with a challenge; and will ultimately, stick with the known rather than risk the unknown. Without perseverance or consistent passion, with a fixed mindset there is usually a lack of grit.

On the other hand, a “growth mindset” accepts failure as part of the learning process; inspires continued attempts to get it right; and enthusiastically accepts new challenges. A growth mindset requires grit.

So where does grit come from? Is it a personality trait, or can it be learned? What can parents do to help their children become “grittier?” Can teachers develop grit in their students?

Our approach at Independence is to make sure we discuss the concepts of grit and mindset with students in different settings and at different developmental stages. Through our unique Learning Applications (LeApps™) curriculum, for example, we talk about the importance of “being in the learning pit,” an analogy for the active process of engaging in thinking about and analyzing a particular topic and idea rather than just memorizing or accepting facts. And, we support our students through the hard work required to emerge from the pit having gained a deeper understanding. We model for students how reflecting on errors can be part of a powerful learning process and not necessarily a negative experience.   

Of course, step one is helping students to understand that failure is not a bad thing. If you want some great conversation starters about grit and mindset with your own children, consider these examples of “famous failures”:

  • Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her news anchor position when she was considered to be not fit for TV.
  • Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job for lacking in creativity and original ideas.
  • J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by nine publishers before someone agreed to publish the novel.

If you’d like to explore the idea of grit in more depth, here are a few resources:

  • Grit and the Power of Perseverance by Dr. Angela Duckworth
  • The Grit Guide for Teens by Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman
  • Drive by Daniel H. Pink
  • How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

Dahra Williams, Ph.D., joined Independence in 2016 as its Consulting Psychologist.

Vita Biddle, Independence's LeApps™ Specialist, has taught at our school since 1992.

Both are team members of the Center for Wellness, Innovation and Learning (CWIL™).

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